Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD: True greatness

Homily at the Shrine of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist  – Madaba, Jordan

(Click on the triangle on the left to listen to the audio.  Below is a loose transcription of the homily).

Ambition of James and John. (Mark 10: 35-45)

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36He replied, “What do you wish [me] to do for you?” 37They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39They said to him, “We can.” Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. 42 Jesus summoned them and said to them,“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. 43But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; 44whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. 45For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In the video we watched in the bus on the way here, I was pretty impressed by the King Abdullah II of Jordan. He was so down to earth and so in touch with his people, in regards to his authentic ways of living with passion, in his heart, and being very, very conscientious of the people whom he serves in a wholesome way. Seeing him dressed in civilian clothes, and the way he greeted his people and sat among them reminds me of the example Jesus is presenting to us in the gospel, where he says that ‘those who want to be great among the Gentiles, lord it over them, but it shall not be so among you.’

The King of Jordan shows us a wonderful example of the proper use of power for the sake of his people and how to serve his people as king. In fact, when he was chosen to be King, he never aspired for the position, and that is exactly why he was chosen. They told him, ‘We see the qualities that you have and you are not hungry for power.’

Gandhi once said, “The world will never know peace until the love of power is replaced by the power to love.” Gandhi also says something like greatness is not a matter of achieving our personal goals, in regards to my accomplishment for my ego’s sake, but rather true greatness is the transformation of the self. And that transformation, that living and bringing out of my better self, and allowing Jesus to show me my best self, that transformation of daily conversion begins with humility.

In today’s gospel Jesus says ‘Whoever wants to be great gives his life for others.’ That’s where you’ll find your greatness — in humbling yourselves to become a gift for others. First, you have to recognize that you are a gift. Know that you are a gift! Don’t underestimate the gift that you are. Your life is a precious gift.

We all acknowledge the sanctity of the unborn and we’re willing to sacrifice our own comfort to stand up as a witness to the gift of life. We have to allow that acknowledgement of that gift of life to begin with ourselves, in order to have the proper courage to allow God to bring out the greatness in us. In other words, God who desires the best for you, wants you to be the greatest of who you can be – in Love.

Your life is meant to be a transformation and resurrection, a finding the greater beauty of who you are us a gift. But that can only be discovered when we give our life away, when we give of yourselves — especially when we give out of our comfort zones, beyond what we thought we were capable of, beyond the limitations we put upon our own striving.

In order to be great, we first have to recognize that the greatness of God lives in me and loves me. Therefore, what I have to give is important and is treasured by Him. This humble recognition gives Him glory, no matter how small it might be, and Therese is the great prophet in teaching us that. The smallest act of kindness, even if it’s a smile, if it’s done out of pure love and the glory of God for the good of the other, is utterly important in God’s eyes.

We celebrate in this church, the Shrine of the Beheading of St. John of the Baptist; after our Blessed Mother, Saint John the Baptist was the greatest saint. Jesus himself acknowledged that. He not only baptized Jesus, but he was also the first one to enter into Jesus’s baptism, as in this gospel.

Two of the most passionate apostles, Saint John and Saint James, the Sons of Zebedee, were known as the Sons of Thunder and as great apostles. Yet they too had to undergo a conversion process. They weren’t born saints. They too had to mature in what it means to be a faithful friend of the Lord.

They approach Jesus and ask a question that sounds egotistical. They start with ‘Teacher,’ and not ‘Lord,’ which shows an earlier state of spiritual growth. They haven’t fully surrendered themselves and acknowledged Christ as Lord. They haven’t given their lives to Him. He’s still just a teacher. What do they ask? We want you to us give what we want from you. Give me! Give me! Give me!

This is not the attitude we’re called to foster. Our disposition, in order for us to draw new life, new spiritual life out of our spiritual pilgrimage is to recognize that it is Jesus who says to us, ‘Give me, give me, give me… of you, your heart, your trust, your hope, your life.’ And we must come to give ourselves more, and more, and more to this living encounter with Him, and through Him, and in Him.

This is the pilgrimage we are seeking to foster, this living exchange with Jesus of our heart for His heart for ours, that we may know him as our Beloved. “My Beloved is mine and I am my Beloved’s,” says the Song of Songs.

Jesus acknowledged St. John the Baptist as the greatest among the saints, but where do we see his greatness most? In John 3:30 in which St. John the Baptist says, “I must decrease, that He might increase.” This means – to learn how give our lives in order to receive new life; to know how to empty ourselves, in order to be filled with Himself.

 

This is the purpose of humility. It’s not becoming a doormat, not taking on a martyr complex or a victim complex. It’s meant to be liberating. It’s meant to lead to a fuller sense of self as God’s child and friend. That’s the fruit of true humility.

Another fruit of true humility that leads to this greatness that God wants for us, this greatness of living in Him, with Him and through Him – as St. Therese says, this humility – bears the fruit of great confidence in God. This is what Jesus wants from us. God delights to see His children full of joyful confidence; it charms and brings joy to the heart of God when he sees us full of this audacious trust.

In Hebrews, Chapter 4, it says, “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy in need, in time of help.” God wants us to receive His grace and mercy. And as our Lord taught Saint Faustina, in the measure that we trust, have a living hope, in the measure that we are confident with this trust and that our heart is open to a resurrection faith, in that measure can we receive. We receive in the measure that we believe and hope.

And God wants us to receive a lot of who He is because there’s no greatness without Him. Left to ourselves, whatever greatness we might imagine is passing away. We’re only great in the measure that we are united to God in love. God’s love in us is our strength. That’s what lasts forever, the greatness of God.

He wants us to be confident to draw from Him and assures us that in having this humility to recognize that I cannot be great by my own will, by my own strength, my own ideas, my own gifts, my own plans. That’s not going to bring greatness. Surrendering my will to His will brings greatness. Bringing my weakness to His mercy will bring greatness.

We have such a Great High Priest who knows how to sympathize with our weakness. He uses His authority as Good Shepherd by coming to us at our level. He engages in our weakness. He knows our weakness from within our skin. He Himself knows what it’s like to be tested, crushed, and afflicted.

The Passion of Christ was prophesied in Isaiah “that the Lord was pleased to crush Him in infirmity because he gives his life as an offering for sin that the will of the Lord to save us may be accomplished through Him.” Through His suffering, says the Lord God of Hosts, my servant will justify many.

And Jesus knows the daily responsibilities of your life. For those of you who are married, Jesus knows your battles to be faithful to your spouse, to be faithful to your children. And if you’re not married, He knows your battle to be faithful to the Church in a secular world. He knows your battle to be faithful to whatever other obligations or responsibilities you might have. And he sympathizes in everything that you have to go through.

Christ in His Passion is the full expression of divine empathy. God empathizes with the process of everything that we have to go through that grows you. As we enter into the sacrifice of our Great High Priest who gave His life for us, may we give our lives to Him, and for Him, to others, and find our greatness in God alone – in giving ourselves us gift to others as He has given Himself as gift to us. In this process, we come to the throne of grace, the cross, with confidence, to draw mercy from the heart of Jesus and to find grace for every detail and need that we present before Him.

Unlike the apostles, we don’t say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” We don’t come with that kind of confidence. Instead, ask God for His kingdon to come in a particular situation in the way He knows best and our soul waits for the Lord.

We wait with hopeful expectation that God will come in the way He knows best. With peace, we let go, we let God, and we thank Him in advance.

 

Teresa Linda, ocds: The praise of glory of Lebanon

LEBANON

Between miles of half-constructed phantom buildings
Along steep-mountain climbs hugged by rocky cliffs and the Mediterranean Sea,
Lebanese men smoke from hookahs and drink Turkish coffee
Over a small table of friends – Where are the women?
One boy watches intently as our bus passes by
Soldiers, holding machine guns wave us on into Holy Christian sites.

A country torn by a history of wars and conflict
Multiple attempted annihilation of both Christians and Muslims.
A land artificially pieced together by neighboring Arab countries
A refuge for Palestinians, exiled from their countries,

As we pass by each building, each olive grove, each turn
The story of this land changes.
But one thing is certain.
She cries inside while smiling with radiant beauty.

“If there is anything that Lebanon does not have a shortage of, it’s rocks,’ says our guide to humor us as we round a sharp curve along a thick wall of limestone. It is past 6:00 pm, and the sun has already set, but our bus continues to make its way through a precipitous mountain climb downhill, with dangerous cliff drops just inches from our windows.

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds

I close my eyes and recall the majestic tranquility of our earlier walk through the forest of the Cedars of Lebanon in the Beqaa Valley. In ancient times, these trees once thrived in Mount Lebanon, and are called ‘Cedars of God’ because they are said to have been planted by God.

“The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted,” says the psalmist (Psalm 104). Though we are far enough from what remains of the cedar forest, I inhale its woody evergreen scent in my imagination to keep myself calm.

The tour group is on our way to the Monastery of Saint Anthony the Great of Qozhaya in the Quadisha Valley. Finally, we pull up to what looks like a dead end, with a small number of seemingly abandoned cars parked alongside the street.

“What are we doing at this forgotten place at the bottom of a deep valley, in the pitch black night?” I wonder.

“Get out, get out the bus now,” our tour guide encourages us on.

And with very little to go by, we all walk toward a small gleam of light further ahead, which then opens up into a spectacular spiritual haven. Shadows of worshippers, walking with deep reverence, seem to come out from the walls.

“You must know, that to understand Lebanon, you must understand the conflict of our multiple confessions,” explained our guide earlier. “Lebanon consists of Muslim Shias and Sunnis. The country also has twelve Christian confessions: Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic…” he continued to list them but I couldn’t keep up.

According to recent statistics, Lebanon is 54% Muslim, 41% Christian, and 5.5% Druze, along with a small number of other faiths. The most recent Civil War, from 1975-2000, mostly between Christian Maronites and Palestinian Muslims, involving shifting international alliances, has resulted in a Lebanese society whose faith lives have been tested and strengthened by the crucible of conflict and death.

Most Lebanese Christian families (as with Muslims) know someone who has died as a result of one war or another, or has fought in the Civil War. No wonder then that they cling to their faiths as young children who have been hurt clasp onto their mother’s hem – most with great love and forgiveness, but some with terrified hatred.

Almost immediately, I am drawn to the Grotto of Saint Anthony, a natural cave dedicated to the saint. At the altar in front of the cave, a young couple both hold onto a grey, oblong, smooth stone with a hole at each end. They are praying quietly, he in Arabic and she in French, their lowered dark lashes veiling their eyes, as the candle smoke cuts through the cave’s mustiness. They are probably praying for a child, as this grotto is known for such miracles.

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds

Countless supernatural phenomenon are attributed to Lebanese saints, most of whom are unknown to much of the world, like Saint Charbel, whose intercessions after death have healed many.

For me, the saint who most embodies the country of Lebanon itself is Saint Rafqa (1832-1914), a Maronite nun who, despite her intense share of Christ’s suffering through blindness and paralysis, continually gave praise to God, and maintained her peace and joy. And she used her hands, the only part of her body she could move, to weave beautiful patterns displayed throughout one museum.

Saint Rafqa is very much like Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, whose feast day Carmelites celebrate today; she continued to sing in her heart and offer herself as God’s praise of glory through her painful death brought on by Addison’s disease.

“I think that in Heaven my mission will be to draw souls by helping them to go out of themselves in order to cling to God by a wholly simple and loving movement, and to keep them in this great silence within which will allow God to communicate Himself to them and to transform them into Himself,” said Saint Elizabeth.

That is the way of the Lebanese Christians I encountered. Their witness , I believe, is one of the most accurate modern day examples of faithfully living out the Carmelite spirit in the secular world.

Without a doubt, every Lebanese I saw, personally knew the pain of crucifixion in one way or another. Yet rather than giving visitors bitter gall, they offered – without cost – golden wax candles, scented frankincense oil, and incense of myrrh.

Lebanese saints with the Good Shepherd: Saints Nematala Al-Hardini, San Maron, Charbel, and Rafqa

Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD: at the tomb of St. Charbel

Photo credit, Lorelei Low, ocds

at the Monastery of St. Charbel, Annaya, Lebanon

How blessed we are to be in the presence of one of Jesus’s very close friends. The life of St. Charbel is enigmatic, so unusual, and contradicts our expectations of saints like Padre Pio, whose holiness was obvious to many. But Saint Charbel lived a hidden life of union with God; he lived only the essentials of what it means to be a child of God.

In his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul says that we are called to be and destined to be a child of God and to be his intimate true friend. He writes, “In love, he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.”

That is our destiny. People often wonder what God’s will is for their life. In one word God’s purpose for our life – is Love. Be open to what God has to present to you at each moment. We don’t have to look for anything else. Loving in a hidden way is sufficient.

Saint Paul continues the we were chosen “so that we may exist for the praise of His glory.” We’re called to worship the Blessed Trinity. Whatever our state of life is, our primary purpose is that we do everything for the praise of His glory.

Photo credit, Lorelei Low, ocds

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us that ‘not one sparrow has escaped the notice of God.’ No act of love and true humility escapes God’s notice. Be aware that the divine presence is in your heart. We must find Him there. Seek first the praise of His glory and His face in your own life.

In our pursuit of the kingdom of God, Jesus warns us to “Beware of the leaven – the hypocrisy – of the Pharisees. He warns us not be fake friends and the model that juxtaposes against those who are his real friends are the Pharisees and their hypocrisy.

Jesus also tells His disciples, “There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed nor secret that will not be known.” There is nothing hidden. We can’t live a double life, putting on a good life on the outside only. Jesus calls us to an authenticity of love, which first comes from our personal recognition that ‘I can’t do it on my own.’

Without God’s grace, none of us can fully live up to the perfect love we are called to, or allow His indwelling spirit to live in us. Grace and complete humility is what makes St. Charbel’s life so fruitful.

The hidden union he had in his heart was life- giving after he passed from this world. In this life, though the secret intimacy he shared with Jesus went unnoticed, when he went to heaven, he became a fountain of miracles for God.

St. John of the Cross writes that in the spiritual marriage, a totally flourishing friendship with God comes alive, and God chooses each of us to fully share in this intimacy.

When we kneel before Saint Charbel, we praise and glorify God for what He has done in St. Charbel. God can accomplish far more than we can imagine, provided that we allow him. We are all called to share in the fullness of his divinity. St. Charbel is that witness to our day and age. He models the spiritual marriage here and now, giving us the confidence that Jesus is capable of doing today what He did in the ancient days.

One of the main reasons it is appropriate to begin a pilgrimage by honoring Saint Charbel, is to help us to prepare our encounter in Jesus’s footsteps. By his very witness and presence, Saint Charbel is a bridge that unites the East and the West. He was a contemporary monk who lived the same contemplative spirit of St. Elijah in this Holy Land.

Saint Charbel calls us to discover our own roots and identity. He embodies, especially for Carmelites, the zeal for the absolute primacy of God’s love. As we come before the altar, we already share in this future glory through the Holy Spirit and the sacrament of the Mass. In the Spirit, the food of the Eucharist is a divine medicine that already gives us a foretaste of the reality that we are God’s possession.

We are all created to be possessed by God’s eternal love. In allegiance to Jesus with Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity and Saint Charbel, may all of us come to know how to live a hidden life of love for the praise of his glory.

Photo credit, Lorelei Low, ocds

NOTE: Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD is currently leading a Holy Land Pilgrimage, organized by Beth Maddatu, ocds and Adriatic Tours.  I have loosely transcribed his homilies so that readers can participate in the journey. – Teresa Linda, ocds

Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD: At Saint Charbel’s Birthplace

NOTE: Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD is currently leading a Holy Land Pilgrimage, organized by Beth Maddatu, ocds and Adriatic Tours.  I have loosely transcribed his homilies so that readers can participate in the journey. – Teresa Linda, ocds

Saint Charbel’s Birthplace (Kafra, Lebanon, in the Quadisha Valley)


 A reading from the second letter of Saint Paul to Timothy (4:10-17)

Beloved: Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Luke is the only one with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is helpful to me in the ministry.

Alexander the coppersmith did me a great deal of harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeded. You too be on guard against him, for he has strongly resisted our preaching.

At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it.

Our pilgrimage of Phoenicia (Lebanon) gives us an opportunity to study a saint who lived only for God.

While Demas and most of his companions deserted Paul, Saint Charbel, enamored with Christ, deserted the world to seek friendship with God. We’re here now, the highest mountain in the Middle East, where Saint Charbel was born and raised.

God, who knows us before we were conceived, chose Saint Charbel to be born in this region, foreshadowing that he would be born to the heights of holiness, the summit of what it means to live in the silence of God — just like Mary and St. Therese, who lived their lives, hidden and in union with the Holy Trinity.

Those seeking holiness must experience Jesus as Savior and have a personal encounter with Him. This intimate relationship allows our new holiness to be stored in us through Christ’s sacred humanity. The psalmist proclaims, “Your friends make known, oh Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.” We are called to be true friends of Jesus.

St. Charbel wrote very little; most of what we know about him comes from oral tradition, but when we see his icon, we see that he is in prayer that radiates peace. He is looking down in humble awareness that God abides in him – the kingdom of God within.  As a prophet for the kingdom of God, Saint Charbel embodies what we value in the life of the spirit.

In the gospel, when Jesus sends his disciples out to witness to the kingdom, he says to them,”Carry no money, bag, no sack, no sandals.” In other words, he asks us to be detached of all material details so that you can focus on the one thing necessary – allowing the peace of Christ to be in your soul.

Embrace discomforts and challenges and allow peace to abide in you, a peace that comes through the holy spirit and the supernatural world – this is what St. Charbel radiates, the abiding embrace of God within us.

We, like the disciples, are sent out like lambs among wolves. However, Saint Paul didn’t allow the wolf bites to get infected, but brushed them off of himself. “May it not be held against them,” he writes. Paul rid himself of resentment, and the desire to get back at Demas, Alexander, and others who hurt or abandoned him – he leaves everything in the Lord’s hands.

Jesus also warns the believers to be careful against those wolves. We must love one another but be as wise as a serpents. Know who you’re dealing with, and be on guard of anyone who can steal your peace.

In his letter to Timothy, St. Paul was deeply disappointed because the people he expected to help, hurt him yet he didn’t allow his disappointment to discourage him and bring him down. As a result of his affliction, God gave him strength.

Where Paul’s companions were lacking, God provided peace. May this peace define what it means for you to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

During pilgrimage, we bring everything with us – our family, our local community, our nation – and we ask Jesus Immanuel into that. Let us be open to an unprecedented encounter with Jesus, that He may make our hearts His Holy Land. Amen.

Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD: The Eucharist and SaintTeresa

PART I

PART II

(Click on the triangle to play the audio.  Below is a rough transcription of the conference)

In John 6, Jesus refers to himself as ‘I am’ – Jahweh. As Catholics, we sometimes are repulsed by the name Jehovah because we associate this with ‘Jehovah Witnesses’ and their often anti-Catholic teaching.

When God revealed His name ‘I am who am,’ this revealed who God is. It is a metaphysical expression that God is of another dimension – He is far and above creation in essence. Everything of His creation is a reflection of His beauty, His truth, and His goodness. Everything witnesses to the grandeur of God. However, none of this can fully capture who He is in His essence; this is beyond human comprehension. He is transcendent as well as eminent.

In the Western church, we lose sight of His transcendence, and we need to recapture what was at the heart of Christian mysticism. He is the only one for whom there is no origin.

God’s essence is to exist; He is the cause of our becoming. He is ultimately, supreme perfection, the absolute Absolute, that of which nothing greater can be conceived, ultimate Reality – Being itself. All these philosophical terms point to His supernatural being. He cannot be comprehended by our human understanding, though all of creation points to Him.

No image can capture God, but in the incarnation, we ultimately see God, for the God-Man, Jesus Christ, reveals the face of God. Because of the incarnation, we have a person who is tangible to help us relate to God. He gives us access to the magnificent mystery of God. He enters into full relationship with us through His Son. Jesus is God made man who made God visible.

Through the Eucharist, especially, Jesus becomes tangible in our hands; the Eucharist is at the heart of the life of the Trinity. It enters into the mystical relationship and is given to us as a foretaste of the eternal banquet. Love’s true nature is to come down. God in his humility came down to our level to raise us up to Him.

Jesus wants to feed us from heaven. In Toledo, St. John of the Cross writes a series of poems titled Romances, about God’s love for us – the divine romance. Through the Eucharist, we are being drawn into this love.

In our Catholic tradition, every saint has discovered and seen the reality of what the Eucharist is, and have freely made that as the center of their lives – the Holy communion that leads to the Holy Trinity.

Saint Teresa describes her experience of the Holy Eucharist – “in a moment, all the darkness of the soul disperses.” All afflictions of soul and body can leave in a moment through the Eucharist – exhaustion, negative sarcasm, critical spirits – can wear out our spiritual journeys but in one moment, God can alleviate us from all that weight.

In the Eucharist, Saint Teresa sees the “extraordinary majesty of God” so that “the whole experience seemed to annihilate” her. When we contemplate this truth through the eyes of faith, we’re able to acknowledge in our hearts the reality of God’s presence, though by its physical nature, we only see something very insignificant.

This mystery points to who we are as the Body of Christ. To the eyes of the world, we are ordinary human beings, with faults and defects, just like anybody else. Yet through grace, the God of heaven and earth lives in our hearts and calls us His Body and calls us to be Light for the World.

What does it mean to be Light for the World? This is not meant to be egocentric or narcissistic. It means that we must be united to the sufferings of Christ; we must experience the contradictions of the cross and experience that suffering in union with the cross. It means being His ambassador for the sake of the family. God can use us as instruments of salvation for those whom we most love. We must love Christ on the cross. This love is not about loving suffering itself – loving the bare cross without Jesus– but loving Christ on the cross.

It is true that Jesus is disguised in all creation. God is everywhere, but not everything is God.

St. Teresa recognizes the immensity of the Deity “concealed in something as small as a host…wisdom so wonderful…the stone that was rejected has become the cornerstone.” The universe revolves around the cross and resurrection, and the Eucharist enters into the victory of God’s eternal now, of love that overcomes every evil.

Where there has been destruction, the cross is somehow at work. Saint Paul says that all creation groans for the coming of the freedom that comes in Christ; all creation shares in the redemptive act. The great saints, starting with the Greek Fathers and greatest saints of the Early Christian Church and the East, understood and wrote often about this mystery.

Saint Teresa contrasts the experience of prayer possible through Communion as opposed to prayer outside of the Eucharist, mental prayer or meditation. As Christians, meditation for us means the gaze of faith on some truth that is revealed to us that expresses something about who God is and who we are.

Our spiritual life must be well-formed through proper meditation and an understanding of who God is – and then – we can go into emptiness, into the cloud of unknowing and enter into the embrace of God. In the early states of meditation, we must have proper formation. We are to use our sense to reflect on the truth of the faith that can help us deepen our relationship with God in a way that changes and transforms us.

Holy Communion is entering into God’s eternal Now. I am, Now, in the present moment. God exists to abide in the eternal now, in the sacrament of the moment, and we are called to enter into that. The present moment, where God is to be encountered, is liberating and takes us into the fullness of who God is – embracing all things, all of creation in one act of love. Whenever we celebrate communion, we enter into that experience.

God wants to make Himself enfleshed in you, now, and this happens through the Eucharist. It is an amazing marriage between heaven and earth.

Saint Teresa says, “There’s no reason to go looking for Him further away.” He is present in the humble wafer as He is in the great cathedrals. We must find that treasure in ourselves especially – and in unexpected places and people. Jesus comes not simply for us to adore Him in the tabernacle, but He comes down so that we may be His tabernacle.

What is keeping you from keeping the treasure of heaven within yourself? How is God asking you to find the priceless pearl within you?

When we start to love ourselves the way God loves us, then we can love others more freely, and see God everywhere. The key to this liberty of grace is our true awareness of God’s deep love.

SOURCE: 2018 OCDS Meeting Conference, Santa Clara, CA

Erin Foord, ocds: let nothing frighten you – trust in the Lord

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (our interpretations and imaginings).  This is one of Scripture’s most frequent imperatives.

“In all your ways submit to him (Thy will be done), and he will make your paths straight.” (Prv.3:5) This is the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ! How many times and in how many different ways does it need to be expressed before we embrace it with our whole heart, trusting with complete confidence that, “…all things work for good for those who love God”. (Rom.8:28) If we believe it from the bottom of our heart, what is there to fear?

Out of all the situations we face, are any of them legitimate for worry? Saint Matthew describes the Apostles on the brink of death. They cry out in terror, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (Matt. 8:25)

Jesus had been asleep as the boat became overwhelmed by the wind and waves. His response is crucial to our understanding. Does he exclaim, “Close call, why did you wait so long?” Rather, He admonishes their fear calling out their lack of virtue. “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26)

I repeat the above scripture for emphasis, “Lean not on your own understanding!” With our faith, hope, and love securely grounded in Jesus Christ, “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn.14:6), we will never be threatened by loss, because we possess the real treasure. We will not be disturbed or fearful because nothing can separate us from what we truly care about, God Himself.

Saint Paul confirms, “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.” (Rom.8:35,37)

By this line of her poem, “Let nothing frighten you”, Saint Teresa is encouraging us to grow in the theological virtues. Much of what we fear are mere shadows, figments of our imagination that will never be realized. They are self-created speculations stemming from some form of non-acceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to the present moment.

Usually it is not even the present moment that we fear, but a snap-shot of what was the present moment which has now become the past but we still cling to it. We have a propensity to avoid the present moment and dwell through memory and imagination. What could be more futile, or more insane, than to create inner resistance to something that already “IS”?

In the Chinese language the character for “crisis” is the same character for “opportunity”. It is all how you perceive a situation. That perception will derive from our faith, hope, and love or lack thereof. Most “problems” cannot survive in the reality of God and the present moment. When one of life’s situations goes awry we have an opportunity to demonstrate our faith, in an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God and our hope in his will for our future as we embrace what seems unacceptable with love, peace, and joy.

Fear is a poison that stunts and cripples our spiritual growth. The antidote is what the OCDS Provincial Statues advise, “strive to make prayer penetrate our entire existence, in order to walk in the presence of the living God, through the constant exercise of faith, hope and love….” We must learn to recognize God’s presence in the simple details of everyday life, for He is everywhere, manifest at every moment for those who desire him. He is ever whispering to our heart, “Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.” (Jos 1:9)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning expressed this reality in a most beautiful way in her poem Aurora Leigh.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

― Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Erin Foord, ocds: Let nothing disturb you – the present moment

Anybody can believe in God, even demons believe He exists. It is trusting in God that takes faith. Faith is based on the knowledge that the Creator of the universe, possesses a power beyond our imagining, as well as an intelligence that we cannot begin to comprehend or fathom, and a love that surpasses all knowledge (cf. Eph.3:17).

When an attachment overpowers our virtues causing them to waver, we succumb to fear. In this way fear is very much a temptation. It arises from doubts in our heart that oppose the corresponding virtue. We are tempted against faith that God exists at all, or against hope that He is powerful enough to grant our desire, or wise enough to know what is actually best for us, or tempted against charity that He is loving enough to care.

To assuage our doubts, Saint Paul reminds us that, “Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible nature of eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” (Rom. 1:20)

God is all powerful, all knowing, and all good and loving. The Archangel assures us, “Nothing is impossible for God.” (cf. Lk.1:37) Our faith based on this knowledge establishes trust and our trust gives way to surrender, “Thy will be done.” (Mt.6:10)

It is essential that we recognize and have full confidence in God’s will as our greatest good. This is what Jesus taught and what we request every time we pray the “Our Father”. We must also realize the importance of the “present moment” as the expression of God’s will for us (permissive if not perfect).

It is in this context that Saint Teresa proclaimed, “To have courage for whatever comes in life — everything lies in that.” We should always interpret life according to our faith. When we suffer loss in the present moment we should proclaim the words of our holy mother, “Our greatest gain is to lose the wealth that is of such brief duration and, by comparison with eternal things, of such little worth.” She is well acquainted with human nature and quickly adds the lament, “yet we get upset about it and our gain turns to loss.”  

Our being “upset” takes many forms: unease, anxiety, tension, distress, nervousness, boredom, doubt, worry, and despair. They are all forms of fear caused by compulsively interpreting the present moment through thoughts of a dismally imagined hopeless future – worst case scenario, or you could say Godless scenario.

When we succumb to this temptation, we allow fear to dominate our consciousness pondering over and over an imagined list of miseries. The present moment where God dwells, is distorted into a fearful situation that we need to flee and reject. In this way fear separates us from God and thus is a precursor to sin. Imprisoned in an imagined Godless future we act accordingly to obtain our desires.

The anatomy of a sin begins with desire, is exacerbated through fear of non-fulfillment, and culminates in pride; My will be done.

Over and over in the scripture God entreats us not to fear. The phrases “do not be afraid”, “be not afraid”, “do not fear”, and “fear not” appear over 110 times.

If we include God in our imagined future there should be no reason for fear. There are only situations that need to be dealt with or accepted. It is vital that we always embrace the present moment with absolute faith and hope in God’s love for us.

We need to be vigilant that fear is a temptation against our virtues as Jesus’ explains, “…do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Matt. 6:30)

Jesus’ instruction extends even to legitimate needs for bodily sustenance and clothing. The natural or ordinate desires that our without sin. He continues, “…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. (Matt. 6:30-33)

Do we believe this?

Father Robert Elias Barcelos – The Transverberation of St. Teresa of Avila, August 26

In the 29th chapter of her Life, about halfway through it,  Saint Teresa writes:

I saw in the hands of this beautiful cherubim angel a large golden dart and at the end of the iron tip there appeared to be a little fire. It seemed to me this angel plunged the dart several times into my heart that it reached deep within me [in Spanish she says, “it reached into my entrañas”]. When he drew it out, I thought he was carrying off with him the deepest part of me; and he left me all on fire with great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan, and the sweetness this greatest pain caused me was so superabundant that there is no desire capable of taking it away; nor is the soul content with less than God. The pain is not bodily but spiritual, although the body doesn’t fail to share in some of it, and even a great deal. The loving exchange that takes place between the soul and God is so sweet that I beg him in his goodness to give a taste of this love to anyone who thinks I am lying.

She received a special grace, which is typical of what Saint Teresa refers to as the sixth mansion; it is a very extraordinary gift that God gives to very rare souls. But other people have experienced this…Saint John of the Cross, Saint Therese, Saint Mary of Jesus Crucified, and Saint Padre Pio, to name a few.

The the entrañas… What is that depth of her being that was touched so intimately by God? Saint John of the Cross describes the entrañas as the intimate center of the substance of the soul.. Saint John of Cross says that God’s purpose in granting this kind of deep communication of Himself to someone else’s depth ‘is to exalt the soul, to enlarge it, and enrich it.’

Saint Teresa’s mystical experience must not be confused with mysticism, as it is popularly known on the level of cultural or television mysticism. On that secular level, mysticism is often associated as a grandiose or paranormal psychic adventure, and that’s not the point of this experience at all.

For our holy mother, Saint Teresa, authentic mysticism always had an ecclesial dimension, in other words, genuine mysticism always involved mission for others; it wasn’t just for herself.

One of our Carmelite opening prayers expresses this aspect of mysticism leading to mission. ‘Almighty God, you filled the heart of Saint Teresa, our mother, with the fire of your love and gave her strength to undertake difficult tasks for the honor of your name.’

This is really important because Saint Teresa experienced the Transverberation before all of the marvels of her foundations…and before all that God did through her. In a way that is typical of her voice and expression, Saint Teresa says about her mission in Carmel:

‘If our Lord hadn’t granted me the favors he did, it doesn’t seem to me that I would have had the courage for the works that were done or the strength to support the trials suffered and the statements and judgments made against me.   So after the foundations were begun, the fears I previously had in thinking that I was deceived, left me. I grew certain the work was God’s and so I threw myself into difficult tasks, although always with advice and under obedience. As a result, I understand that since our Lord desire to revive the original spirit of this order, and in His mercy he took me as a means, His majesty had to provide me with what I was lacking, which was everything, in order to get results and better manifest His greatest through so wretched a thing’ (referring to herself).

This grace was a catalyst, a turning point in her life, just like the Transfiguration was to the Apostles. The mystical experience that the three Apostles had on Mount Tabor of seeing Jesus transfigured, left a special mark on their souls and it prepared them for their mission…but more so, it prepared them to endure the crisis of the Cross before they were endowed and equipped for their mission. It was a special turning point.

In the life of Saint Teresa, Allison Peers writes, “At the time of the Transverberation, though she could not have known it, she was nearing the end of the quarter century during which she had been an obscure daughter of Carmel, and she was standing on the threshold of the lifework which was to make her be immortal.”

The Transfiguration in the lives of the Apostles, and the Transverberation in the life of Saint Teresa, show that God communicates Himself in times that we need Him most, and in the times that we need it most. An authentic relationship with God is always going to have an impact on our relationships with others. God’s grace, in granting us an extraordinary experience of His love, is always…that we may have an extraordinary love for others and be willing to share in His mission for the salvation of souls.

In conclusion, to use one Mass Offertory Prayer, ‘Lord God, we offer you this victim of charity, may He kindle in us a love as intense as that which let Saint Teresa of Ávila to offer herself a living sacrifice for the Church.’

 

May we, like our holy mother, Teresa, have a generous, determined, and courageous spirit to endure all things for Christ who strengthens us…that we may be filled with the infinite fire of His divine love!

Erin Foord, ocds: St. Teresa – let nothing frighten you

All of us, to one degree or another, are spiritually broken, “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” (1Jn.1:8-9)

When we use our fears to identify and acknowledge our attachments and weaknesses, then God cleanses the residual “stains” of “every wrong doing” on our spiritual faculties; of understanding, memory, and will that we discussed above.

The theological virtues heal and purify our spiritual faculties through the active dark night of spirit. They involve our own efforts supported by God’s grace. The spiritual faculty of human understanding, the assumptions and interpretations we derive, are purified by supernatural faith. Human memory, the storage of those perceptions, is purified by supernatural hope. And the human will which is our response to those perceptions is purified by supernatural charity.

An example will help to illustrate this idea. Imagine a beautiful spring morning, the sun is shining, the sky is blue as you drive down a street lined with majestic oak trees. You notice every tree as you pass under and are taken by the diversity. Each one is a little different – its shape or color or foliage, and each adds to the beauty of the overall tapestry. In awe of the splendor of the moment you effusively praise God as it unfolds before you.

This is the way we are meant to journey through life; acknowledging the grandeur of each moment and praising the glory of God.

Then something happens.

Out of the corner of your eye your attention is drawn to a car going the opposite direction. You look just as it has passed by and quickly notice from the back that it resembles your husband’s car. You were not able to make out the driver, but you know that the passenger was a woman.

Immediately, you begin to cling to that one moment, replaying it over and over in your head. Could that have been his car – isn’t he supposed to be at work? Why would he be with another woman? Fear begins to take over, “Is he cheating on me?” And anger, “I do so much for him and he is never grateful!”

Obviously, this is a silly exaggerated example, but let’s use it to examine what happened to the beautiful day and our communion with God. The beautiful day is still there and God is still with us, but we are no longer present. We have become blinded, clinging to a memory we created, trapped in the past by shackles forged from our own ego.

How would greater faith have changed our interpretation of this event? What really happened? The event itself was harmless and should not have sustained our attention. We saw the back of a car driving down a street. We could have chosen to stop following the distraction and returned our mind and heart to God. Everything beyond that point is our embellished interpretation of the event, which not only violates our faith in God, but also violates faith in our spouse.

We defy the virtue of hope when we refuse to let go of the event and begin making the worst assumptions and jumping to the worst conclusions. Our response undermines the virtue of charity when we take the event personally making it about ourselves. “…cheating on me”, “…I do so much for him”, “he is never grateful (to me)”.

Whenever we take something personally we are serving our ego not God. The same is true when we cling to the past or some imagined future, when we make uncharitable assumptions, judgements, and conclusions, and when we attempt to control others. These actions all deny God and build up our ego.

SAVE THE DATE: September 16 – The Beauty of Carmelite Prayer

A Day of Recollection
1000 Lincoln St., Santa Clara
Sunday, September 16, 2018

(Feel free to attend any part of the day which suits your Sunday schedule)

10:30am-11:30am – Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
Celebrant: Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD
11:45am-12:45pm – Lunch
1:00-1:45pm – Conference 1, Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD
1:45-2:15pm – Silent Prayer/ Rest
2:15-3:00pm – Conference 2, Daughters of Carmel, Putri Karmel
3:00-3:30pm – Silent Prayer/ Rest
3:30-4:15pm – Conference 3, Daughters of Carmel, Putri Karmel
4:15-4:30pm – Prepare for Evening Prayer/Rest
4:30-5:00pm – Adoration, Evening Prayer, and Office of Readings with Santa Clara Monastery Discalced Carmelite Sisters

HOSTED BY: The Santa Clara Discalced Carmelite Seculars (OCDS) Community of the Infant Jesus. To RSVP or for more information please contact maryducote@sbcglobal.net.

The Discalced Carmelite Seculars are practicing members of the Catholic Church who, under the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and inspired by St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross, have made the commitment to the Discalced Carmelite Order to seek the face of God for the sake of the church and the world. For information, go to http://www.ocds.info/

Free-will offering welcome at the entrance table